As I trudge through life with cancer I am often told that I am courageous. I shrug and decline the nomination.
Soldiers forced to face an enemy, fighting for freedom, facing death. That is courage. They are not deterred by pain or danger. They are far from home and family. They are brave.
I can crawl into my bed and stay there all day on one of those days. Is that bravery?
Pain was my father’s company when he counted his pills, lining them up and checking how long it was before he could take the next set.
“Look at the plane landing,” he said that Christmas, the last month of his life when he was no longer counting pills. The field outside the country hospital was bare, without runways or airplanes. Morphine exchanged pain for friendly phantoms. We went for ice cream in the hospital cafeteria. Santa handed out candy and razors. Was he real?
I have not yet faced pain. And when I do, I will not fight. I will allow narcotics to lull me into a stupor where I accept comfort and hallucinations.
To be prepared, I asked the doctor last week about pain relief. “Just so I’m not in agony some night,” I asked. We talked about the limitations of Tylenol and then she wrote the script for Oxycodone*, a narcotic as popular at the cancer agency as it is on Main and Hastings.
When I exclaimed about 50 pills (50 pills!) she explained that it was a low dose tablet and I might have to take 10 some day. Ten? How much pain is in store for me? I am afraid.
I fear pain and the loss of my independence as well as my bodily fluids. I fear the pity in your eyes — and I have seen it.
I flinch at the thought of leaving my family to fend for themselves. I am afraid of leaving this life before I grow old without my gold senior’s card, my pension and half-price movies. I am afraid of leaving my children without seeing them mature into the tremendous adults I see glimpses of them becoming. I am scared of leaving this earth without a sighting of grandchildren.
Perhaps you saw me as I sat in the lounge chair this afternoon, the cherry-red Kool Aid-like weed killer** pouring into my veins. Did I look bold? I submit to chemo for the fourth time in four years, iPad on my lap, chatty with the nurse, cocky with fellow patients. Am I heroic?
No, I am afraid for my life. As my numbers climb and the report of my CT scan extends to a second page, I look for words of hope: stable, unremarkable, resolved, unchanged, decreased in size, visually improved, within limits.
I try to balance them with the scary words: more, increased, several new, multiple, metastases, suspicious.
Tomorrow is another day. I will think of the cherry-red drug inside me, searching out and poisoning the demon tumours. I’ll inhale the good words of my friends and think happy thoughts. I will be brave to face another day.
*Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from poppy-derived thebaine. It is a narcotic analgesic generally indicated for relief of moderate to severe pain. It was developed in 1916 in Germany as one of several new semi-synthetic opioids in an attempt to improve on the existing opioids. (Wikipedia)
**Caelyx or Doxil: Doxorubicin (INN, AAN, BAN, USAN; trade name Adriamycin; pegylated liposomal form trade name Doxil; nonpegylated liposomal form trade name Myocet), also known as hydroxydaunorubicin and hydroxydaunomycin, is a drug used in cancer chemotherapy and derived by chemical semisynthesis from a bacterial species. It is an anthracycline antibiotic (note: in this context, this does not mean it is used to treat bacterial infections) closely related to the natural product daunomycinand like all anthracyclines, it works by intercalating DNA, with the most serious adverse effect being life-threatening heart damage. It is commonly used in the treatment of a wide range of cancers, including hematological malignancies (blood cancers, like leukaemia and lymphoma), many types of carcinoma (solid tumours) and soft tissue sarcomas. It is often used in combination chemotherapy as a component of various chemotherapy regimens.(Wikipedia)